X-Men: First Class Directed by: Matthew Vaughn Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Kevin Bacon, Jennifer Lawrence, Oliver Platt, January Jones, Nicholas Hoult Running Time: 2 hrs 10 mins Rating: PG-13 Release Date: June 3, 2011
This is a "Seen It" review. You've seen it. I've seen it. That means all plot points and spoilers are fair game and will be discussed. The only reason to read this review is if you have already watched the film, or never plan on seeing it, but for some reason, you'd like to know what TSR thought about it. We walk you through the key moments in the film, adding in our thoughts along the way. You've been warned.
PLOT: A group of superhuman beings band together to stop an evil all-powerful mutant from manipulating the start of World War III.
Movie: Just like Bryan Singer's original X-Men film, this one kicks off in early 1940's Poland. Little Magneto's powers are shown to the world in two moments of rage, and Kevin Bacon starts to sound very legitimate as a Nazi, with some German dialogue delivered to boot. Thoughts by TSR: Anyone previously perplexed as to why the Bacon-ater was cast in an X-Men movie has their answer. He's quite good at being bad. The first stand-off of the film is pretty intense, with Bacon's character Klaus Schmidt forcing little Erik to show off his powers. If I'm allowed to be very specific, (and to use some film jargon), I love the cut that violates the 180 degree rule, and it shows off what kind of room this tense event is truly happening in (a surgery shop from Nazi Hell). A good re-introduction to the story of X-Men with some familiar ground, but also some new nerves added in.
Movie: Years later, Schmidt is seen by CIA agent Moira McTaggert (Byrne) interacting with an influential American general. Thoughts by TSR: This scene is a bit significant because it introduces the "maturity" of the film. One one hand, X-Men: First Class doesn't use its mutant characters immediately as killing machines, but instead as really violent bodyguards. On the other hand, the film attempts to appease the other side of a viewer's brain by offering sex, and most of all, cleavage. After all, why does this "evil meeting" need to happen in a fancy brothel of sorts, and also cause the female hero of the movie to immediately strip down minutes into knowing her? Isn't January Jones offering enough cleavage nearly every time she is on screen? Parts of this scene felt odd in terms of compensation, but at least it starts to drive home the freakish aspect of mutants, and their power over vulnerable human beings.
Movie: Years after surviving the Holocaust, Erik is on the hunt for Schmidt, and eventually heads to Argentina and kills two of Schmidt's former ex-Nazi buddies. Thoughts by TSR: McAvoy's character Charles might fool himself with some hunky dory moments of being a brainiac that he's the key to this movie, but he's wrong. Fassbender has this movie by the throat, and we can tell that from two (too brief) moments that show his revenge means business. The way in which he takes out those ex-Nazis in South America is beautifully shot, and just like his shining moments of Inglourious Basterds, expertly paced. I can't be the only one who thought of some Basterds parallels during X-Men: First Class, right?
Movie: With the creation of a brain device that allows Xavier to track down mutants as if they were in some sort of hereafter, the newly made duo of Erik and Xavier travel the country to recruit some mutants. Thoughts by TSR: This montage was inevitable, but it doesn't sit very well. Too many winks in this scene, in a way that's nearly the wrong kind of cute. Thus I was more than happy to see a vulgar Hugh Jackman make a brief cameo in the film, especially for the way in which he brought the montage to an abrupt end.
Movie: Erik and Xavier are lead with some CIA folk to try to capture Schmidt near Russia. It’s only his right hand woman, Emma Frost. Thoughts by TSR: Again, it’s worth noting that this movie doesn’t have a full-on action sequence until the end. We can certainly sense the difference between this X-Men movie and the ones that were made before it because of the way this scene is handled. It rushes through the "action" of this moment, but does so cleverly with Erik and Xavier dashing through armed guards and using their minds as the ultimate weapon.
Movie: While Schmidt is working on finalizing the plans to essentially start World War III, the squadron of young mutants start to train up and harness their abilities. Thoughts by TSR: If you weren't already on board with the whole X-Men group, then you were at this moment. The best moment in this scene is when Erik eventually moves the satellite with his mind. It's a great example of the movie being able to show off its acting power and emotional potential, even if the film is visually constructed often of men tapping their lobes or waving their hands in the air. Fassbender brings a walloping amount of intensity to this character, and raises the fascinating factor of Magneto to a whole new level.
Movie: The day before they head off to Cuba, Mystique opens dialogue with the three men in her life about the concept of being mutant and proud. Thoughts by TSR: Good on X-Men: First Class to really give this idea a discussion, and to make it feel much more emotionally complicated than it has been before. I love the idea that even though Xavier is a brainiac when it comes to everything mutants, he still believes in the subtle appearances, and of not showing off your unusual features. With "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" foreshadowed before, this scene also has a memorable monster transformation when Hank McCoy (Hoult) finally transforms into his Beast shape.
Movie: In the events that lead up to the Cuban Missile Crisis, Xavier is able to help destroy a rogue ship and the fight begins. Thoughts by TSR: Although international history already tells us how Schmidt's Cuban missile scheme is going to pan out, this is a fairly intense moment. Not simply for it smart combat sequences (with an exception of Beast fighting Azazel, which soon feels redundant), but for its fast paced and massive action scope of action. Magneto's lifting of Schmidt's submarine into mid-air is as spectacular as it felt when we saw brief second of it in the film's trailer. I could have done without this scene's re-introduction of Angel, however.
Movie: The mutants continue to fight while Magneto faces Schmidt. Magneto puts a coin through Schmidt's skull, after taking the helmet and assuming a position of evil. Thoughts by TSR: Wow. This moment alone can indicate how well-made this movie is, on all fronts. It contains so much symmetry (the usage of the coin, as Erik had thrown at a drawing earlier in the movie) and is beautifully filmed. The cut from Schmidt's head to Xavier's screaming head is the sign of straight-up fantastic filmmaking.
Movie: Xavier gets a bullet in his spine, Mystique joins the dark side, the X-Men receive their name, and Moira is made fun of for being a woman in the CIA. Thoughts by TSR: At times X-Men: First Class can be guilty of making some winking gestures at the first three films, but this film's conclusion is an example of how it pulls everything beautifully together. Although this movie comes before the three in a timeline, it also makes them feel more full in return. Plus, the end of the movie makes Magneto out to be truly menacing as a human being, and not just as a superhero. I was disappointed, however, to not see anything after the credits. But I suppose X-Men: First Class doesn't have to resort to such techniques to surprise the audience.
X-Men: First Class acknowledges the power of the minds with its frugal use of hand-to-hand combat and creates something more important than a clashing of freaky capabilities. In fact, when it does finally give its audience a fight scene or two, these moments are the least interesting. This film is so sharp that it make stand-off situations, which are truly meeting of minds, to be more exciting and intense than elaborate destruction and all-out chaos. Its packing of subtext and true emotion even shows how thoughtful the concept of the entire X-Men universe can be. As with any battle, whether it be mutant vs. mutant or mutant movie vs. audience, X-Men: First Class makes it clear that the most important weapon is not brawn, but brains.
FINAL SCORE: 8/10